Reported on: August 05, 2012 11:42 AM
Reported in: Sports
MANCHESTER, England, Aug 5 (AP/UNB) - When he was a 5-year-old boy, Japan striker Kensuke Nagai arrived in Brazil and soon started playing football barefoot in the streets with other neighborhood kids.
When he left three years later, he dreamed of emulating Brazilian star, Ronaldo. Now, Nagai hopes he'll face Brazil in the final of the men's Olympic football tournament, so he can showcase the speed and skills he began developing in that country during his childhood.
"This is the first time for me to participate in such a big international competition, so I want to prove how much I can play and it's a good chance for me to show my ability," Nagai said.
While in Brazil, he started playing several different sports in the city of Ipatinga, where his parents had a business.
"There was a big sports facility with a football ground, swimming pool and tennis court, etc., near my house and my parents taught me many different sports there," Nagai said. "I also played street football with neighbors while barefoot."
He has long since started wearing boots and they have been tearing up the turf at the London Games. He has scored two goals so far, including Japan's first in a 3-0 win over Egypt at Old Trafford on Saturday to help his team reach its first Olympic semifinal since 1968.
But it's not only his goals that people are talking about. His lightning-quick pace and agility are capable of tearing apart opposing defenses in seconds. It draws defenders toward him, creating space and scoring chances for his teammates.
"I think my pace and speed are threats for the teams I played against so far and I gained some more confidence from that," Nagai said.
A Premier League scout watching Japan play Spain in Glasgow was impressed with Nagai's movement, saying his runs behind the back line were tormenting defenders. Spain lost the match 1-0 in an upset, finishing with 10 men after center back Inigo Martinez was sent off before halftime while trying to stop Nagai as he charged toward goal. In Newcastle, he scored a late winner in a 1-0 win over Morocco, sending the Japanese into the quarterfinals.
"The weapon he's got is his speed and we want to make the best use out of it," Japan coach Takashi Sekizuka said a day before the Egypt match.
Nagai picked up a left thigh injury while scoring his goal against Egypt and had to be substituted a few minutes later. But he later said it was a minor knock and he should be fit to play against Mexico at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday in the semifinals.
Nagai, who plays for Japanese club team Nagoya Grampus, has his sights set on playing in another league one day.
"It doesn't have to be this summer, but I want to try to play in Europe or somewhere else abroad," he said.
For now, he wants to help the Olympic team win a medal to add to Japan's bronze at the 1968 Mexico Games, and he hopes fate sets up a final against Brazil.
"It is a good chance for me to estimate my pace and speed against a top team in the world," Nagai said. "They are a good attacking team obviously, at the same time they are loose in defense. That is where we should attack."